How to Create a Secret Garden in Your Own Backyard

On the north side of Matilda Goads house in London, hidden in an alcove between the kitchen and living room, is a small courtyard with granite paving stones. The narrow courtyard, which is flanked on one side by a clematis-strewn fence, has a decidedly rural feel Feeling, thanks in part to a salvaged butler china sink leaning against the left wall and filled with soaked dahlia bulbs and thimble ready for planting on a bright June day. A few steps further, above an old zinc bath with hydrangea bushes, the stems of which are covered by Soleirolia, is a porthole window that reveals the view through the living room and the garden at the back of the house. Many Londoners with a lack of space would have chosen to build in this strip of land, known in Great Britain as the side return, to get hold of additional square meters while ramming against the border of their neighbors. Not goad. “I always think of creating a moment that is a little unexpected,” she says.

In fact, unexpected moments have become the calling card of the 31-year-old homeware designer and creative consultant. Your new pleated blind series Lampshades, for example, follow a cozy cottage aesthetic, but the shades are made of solid brass. And her house, a red brick A Victorian-era building on an oak-lined street in the Kensal Rise neighborhood that she bought with her husband Tom Corbett-Winder in 2018 and renovated the following year has many quirks. Goad chose to place the kitchen at the front of the house rather than the back, as is typical of turn-of-the-century townhouses, and added a pantry, an old-fashioned feature that came in handy during the period turns out the pandemic. She also decided that the best way to maximize upstairs space is to remodel things so that you enter the master bedroom through your own bathroom. In a further departure from the English tradition, the approximately 600 square meter garden has no trace of lawn.

“I wanted to shake up what a formulaic layout could have been, to create a sense of discovery even in a small space, which is what I like to do with interiors,” says Goad. To do this, she sought advice from American-born, London-based garden designer Butter Wakefield. “Although I grew up in the country where my mother has a beautiful garden, I’ve never had one myself,” says Goad. “I had seen Butter build a tiny London terrace that was really imaginative.” Wakefield, in turn, was an admirer of Goad after buying one of their striped ceramic jugs a few years ago. The “jungle” she encountered on her first visit to Goad in September 2019 did not discourage her. The previous owners worked in the theater – he as a producer and she as a set designer – and the garden was filled to the brim with plants, statues, mirrors, and stage props. “It almost took a machete to hit the back wall,” recalls Wakefield with a laugh. “But it had a popular, characterful feeling. And there were mysterious bags. “

To preserve and improve these bags, Wakefield devised an economic plan – Goad was nearing the end of their home renovations and budgets were tight – that depended on dividing the garden into sections. “A lot of people want a lawn in the middle and a border on the sides, but I thought it would be nice to walk through two hedges and beyond the second hedge the garden would open into an outdoor dining area that catches the sun all day, ”says Wakefield. This also gives the visitor the impression of having stumbled into a secret idyll that, although objectively modest, is still larger than one would assume due to the three khaki-green lacquered double doors on the back of the house, which is little more than hedges and one Bed comprised of cheerful orange geums, purple catnip, and allium, and acid green alchemilla. “Butter was also very adept at keeping elements of what we had inherited,” says Goad. “Some of the pink roses, for example, are a bit cheeky to me, but she insisted we keep them.” Goad insisted they don’t use yew hedges, which she thought would look too well-kept – “I wanted something casual and free “, She says – and so they opted for hornbeam hedges instead.

However, it couldn’t be planted until construction workers removed 20 dumpsters worth of rubble, including several feet of rotting trellis. Next, reconditioned railway sleepers were stacked in the existing flower beds, forming the L-shaped seating area, with the heavy oak boards doubling as benches. The ground was leveled and covered with gravel, which was later replaced with more granite pavement when funds allowed (extensive FaceTiming between Goad and Wakefield made sure they didn’t get too latticed). New trellises were erected along both borders. And a small compost heap was converted into a raised bed, which bloomed with tulips last spring. It now features neat lines of arugula, purple sage, basil, carrots, and pea shoots and will hopefully be full of dahlias growing from the tubers in the sink that came from Goad’s mother’s garden in West Sussex later this year. Goad also loves geraniums, which fill an old wrought iron plant stand near the left brick wall. “Somebody told me that Instagram killed geraniums that they’re not cool anymore,” Goad says. “But I like the smell. You remind me of my grandma. “

Most summer evenings after a long day at her desk, and as soon as her one-year-old daughter Domino falls asleep, Goad winds around dead, watering. “Only half an hour can be so therapeutic,” she says. You and Corbett-Winder also enjoy organizing cozy weekend lunches for friends in the rustic dining area – covered by a high hedge of wild buttercream roses – who feel particularly valuable after a year of lockdown. They plan to install a table with a concrete top, but are content with an old style of wood for the time being, which they cover with Hungarian linen tablecloths. “It’s so much easier to chat outside, especially with kids,” says Goad, gazing at a newly planted cutting, this one made from wild strawberries and from the garden of Corbett-Winder’s mother in Wales. “I love the idea of ​​inheriting plants that they travel around everywhere. Not that he looks very happy at the moment, ”she says, pouring a glass of water into the ground. In doing so, she brushes against a blurry cranesbill to reveal an otherwise largely obscured stone nymph, which was another detail from the earlier iteration of the garden that Wakefield wanted to keep. As Goad says of the statue, “It’s part of the mystery”.

This is where Goad and Wakefield share their tips for creating a lush urban garden.

“The biggest mistake in dealing with a small garden is treating it like a small garden. Think as big as you can! ” says Wakefield. “I once filled a tiny piece of urban land with giant tree ferns. They were the biggest the garden could accommodate and it was hell getting them around the house, but they looked great on site. ”Mirrors seem to help add square footage, but they shouldn’t be exposed. “You have to be behind a trellis so that you can’t look at yourself all the time because that’s very annoying,” she adds.

Wakefield suggests adding patio furniture regardless of the size of the property. “Even if it’s purely visual, if you can get a chair outside, it creates another dimension,” she says. Railroad ties, an inexpensive way to box in beds, can also provide additional seating for guests – in Goad’s garden they serve as benches for their large table, while the raised bed in the middle of the garden provides people to sit when they peel away to themselves from the table to mix.

“Outdoor furniture and fixtures can be incredibly expensive and easy to miss when you’re starting to budget,” Goad says. Instead, pull out the pillows and blankets that might otherwise accentuate your living room. “It’s not very practical to have tons of outdoor-only pillows that you can only use 10 days a year and nowhere to keep for the rest of the year. Be inventive, “says Goad, adding that she likes to use Hungarian linen for tablecloths because” it often comes in long distances and is a heavier weight that stains more easily. “

Goad and Wakefield sourced antique finned zinc planters known as dolly tubs, now filled with nasturtiums and jasmine, and a wrought iron plant stand on eBay and London’s Sunbury Antiques Market. “Planters add extra interest and allow you to go vertical,” says Wakefield. “They are eye-catching and when placed against a wall, they offer climbers a base so that when you look at the masonry you can see something green and growing.”

Two plants that are often overlooked but are a regular feature in Wakefield’s gardens? “Alchemilla mollis is a velvet-leaf shrub with foamy, flowery leaves that looks so pretty in pots and borders. It can provide shade or sun and is the most perfect border plant, ”she says. “There’s also another little evergreen creeper called Mind-your-own-business – or Soleirolia soleirolii – that can grow in the darkest, coolest, deepest shade, and I love the way it wanders out of pots and over paved areas. If your lawn is important to you, don’t maintain it – even the smallest leaf will stick. But that doesn’t bother me personally. If it’s green and growing, then hurray. “

“Many people with busy lives panic when it comes to gardening,” says Wakefield. “But the best gardens are looked after by their owners. In the worst case, what can happen? Something is dying. Experimentation is worth it. “

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